The new year brings the hope that the darkest days of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will soon be behind us. As we move forward and continue to take precautions, wearing masks and social distancing, we must also be diligent about protecting our personal and financial information from scammers.
Beware of scams. In particular, coronavirus-related scams where scammers make dishonest attempts to obtain money or personal information from unsuspecting individuals. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which protects consumers from deceptive and unfair practices, has been tracking consumer complaint data related to coronavirus and helping consumers recognize and avoid scams.
Is there a sense of urgency? Are you being threatened?
Scam attempts, whether they relate to coronavirus or not, may be made in person, by telephone (robocalls) or through phishing email and texts. Regardless of how the scam is set up, a scammer attempts to win the confidence of the recipient or threaten the recipient. A scammer may try to impart a sense of urgency or trick you into helping with a fake emergency to get you to act immediately.
It can be difficult to identify some scams as they may be more sophisticated than others. But, remain vigilant. To avoid phone scams, do not answer unknown numbers. If you do and learn it’s a scam or a recorded message or robocall, hang up. Be aware that scammers can use spoofing tools to make it look like they are calling from a legitimate business or government agency. For example, there are scam calls that look like the Social Security Administration (SSA) on caller I.D. The SSA will not threaten to suspend your social security number or benefits, or ask for payment via wire transfer, gift cards or cash. Never give out or confirm your Social Security or Medicare number, credit card, banking or any other personal information (your name, address, date of birth, etc.) to an unsolicited call.
Phishing scams are unsolicited and unexpected communications via email or text message that ask for personal information. Do not share or confirm any of your personal information. Be careful not to click on links, open attachments or download files from unexpected email or text, even if it looks like it is from a person or company you recognize.
Anyone can become a victim of a scam. The main way to avoid scams and protect yourself and your loved ones is through awareness. Below are examples of a few coronavirus-related scams:
- Cure for COVID-19 – Beware of websites offering (fake) COVID-19 remedies. Avoid online offers for coronavirus cures as they are not legitimate.
- Tests for COVID-19 – Scammers attempt to gain personal information to be used in identity theft with the promise of (fake) COVID-19 antibody tests or home test kits.
- Exposed to COVID-19 – Watch out for phishing texts or emails from contact tracer imposters alerting you that you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The text or email includes a link. DO NOT click on it as doing so will download malware to your device.
- Charitable donations – Be wary as scammers will try to solicit donations via phone or email for virus research or to “help” individuals or organizations affected by the virus. Scammers may request the donation be made by gift card, prepaid debit card or cash. Visit the FTC’s website, ftc.gov/charity, for tips on charitable giving prior to making donations.
As many are doing more shopping online, be aware that there are phony websites that imitate retailers. Make sure you are on a legitimate site (fake sites often have grammatical/spelling errors) and that the site has a secure payment process. If you’re unsure about a website, check it with the Better Business Bureau website, www.bbb.org
If you are looking for coronavirus-related information be sure to turn to trusted sources. You can find the latest information at coronavirus.gov or usa.gov/coronavirus. For information about coronavirus scams, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.
If you suspect you or a loved one have been the victim of a scam, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk to someone. Contact your local police department or the Attorney General’s office. Or, you could also contact the Better Business Bureau Federal Trade Commission or the U.S. Postal Inspection Services.